A grandfather's Navy life and after

Unknown - Kernersville, NC

In May 1951 I graduated from high school not knowing what I wanted to do or be. My best friend wanted me to join the Navy with him and I did. We went to Minneapolis for a Navy physical; he failed and went home, while I went to Navy boot camp in Great Lakes, Ill.

After boot camp I volunteered for sea duty, as I did not want to stay in the U.S. on shore duty. They put me on a train (not knowing my destination) to San Francisco. Then I went on a troop ship to Yokohama, Japan, and then on a Japanese train to Sasabo, Japan, a U.S. Navy seaport, then on a ammo ship going to North Korea. We went alongside a Navy destroyer, USS Epperson DDE719, which was to be my ship for the next three years. They hi-lined me from ship to ship (I zip-lined before it became famous!). They took us (6 sailors) below deck to the mess hall for orientation while Epperson headed back to Wonson, North Korea, and continued shore bombardment. A twin 5-inch gun mount was above the mess hall and when it fired the whole ship shook; we were all afraid and scared. After a few weeks we were okay. My first duty station was in a 5-inch twin gun mount. A 5-inch twin gun has a shell 5 inches in diameter and weighs 54 lbs. It can travel 10 miles to a target. During shore bombardment we were fired on but received no direct hits. The North Koreans put dye in their shells to see where they were hitting.

Floating mines were a big problem as one day we had four mines around the ship. We used small arms (rifles) with armor piercing shells to sink the mines or explode them. In Korea we did shore bombardment, plane guard (following aircraft carriers to pick up pilots who crashed or ditched near the carriers). When we returned the pilots, we required 10 gallons of ice cream! We had no ice cream maker. We also did ASW (anti-submarine warfare) to detect any submarines near our ships. One of the destroyers with us hit a mine, killing 23 sailors and wounding 40 others. The mine blew off the bow and the 5-inch gun mount.

While off Korea in the Sea of Japan, we were in a typhoon which lasted three days. We ate sandwiches, no hot meals. All we did was to hang onto something to keep from falling. We had to tie ourselves in our beds. A few sailors broke arms falling out of bed. After six months we returned to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, our home port, and enjoyed the warm weather. No more powder milk and frozen cold cuts. In Pearl Harbor we had daily training ASW which was chasing subs. I and my crew had to stand on the fantail (back end of ship) and, wearing phones, we threw a hand grenade (not metal) where the subs were to be hit with depth charges. The ship took some sharp turns and we had to hold on, and we got soaked.

After our second tour of Korea in 1953 we returned to Pearl Harbor. Then in 1954 we went to the Marshall Islands. There I met my brother Dick who was on a LST (landing ship tank). The sailors called it ‘Large Slow Target.' See operation “Castle.”

After three years aboard Epperson and all sea duty, I signed a transfer request to get Navy recruiting duty in the States. The Navy said they needed me aboard a destroyer (USS Wederburn DD684) out of San Diego. Guess who won? It ended up good as Wederburn and seven other destroyers were scheduled for a goodwill tour of countries in the Far East. It was enjoyable and a good experience. We were the first American Warship to enter the harbor of Nagasaki Japan. I had shore patrol and we were to report to the Japanese police station. When we got there, no one could speak English. All they could do was bow and smile big. It was funny. I like the Japanese people as they were honest and friendly.

One of the things we did was crossing the equator. You are a “PollyWag” and after an extreme beating and torture you become a “Shellback." I was discharged in San Diego and went home to Goodman, Wis. After a month of fishing and visiting my uncle, he sold me his 1941 Plymouth car with 35,000 miles on it for $100. I then left Goodman for Milwaukee to get a job. There was no future to stay in Goodman and work in the saw mill or veneer plant.

The Allen Bradley Co. in Milwaukee was considered a good place to work. A friend's wife took me there and I was hired. Working days, I started going to night school studying electronics. In 1958 there was a recession and I was transferred to another department. I was told that there was an opening in R&D (research and development). I signed up for it and got the job due to my schooling. We developed a pression resistor that was used in high-tech equipment, government weapons and computers. When the resistor went into production, I went with it and became a manufacturing supervisor. I spent my last years at the Allen Bradley Co. as a “director of training” of all manufacturing jobs.

In 1956 at Allen Bradley, different departments got together for a Christmas party. I was to be a bartender and Carol, who was already working at AB, was to be a hostess. This is where we met and we were married in August 1959. A marriage that is in its 60th year as of this writing.

We'd lived in Milwaukee since 1959, and in 1978 our electronic manufacturing moved to Greensboro, N,C. We moved with it to Kernersville, N.C., a small town and 15 miles to work in Greensboro. As of this writing we have been living in Kernersville for 41 years (1978-2019). Our daughters Colleen and Suzanne also live in Kernersville. Youngest daughter Kim lives in Townsend, Del., with husband Larry and both work at the Philly airport. Kim and Larry have triplets (Larry, Sarah and Lauren) and are now 13 years old. Colleen has daughter Amanda who lives in rural Virginia, and son Nathan who lives with fiancée Kirsten in Winston-Salem. Suzanne has Scyndi who is still at home with her and working part-time. Six wonderful grandchildren.

May this information be useful and enjoyable in the coming years and to remember your loving MeMe (Carol) and PaPa (Ron) Kirkpatrick.


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